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Volunteers come together for the keiki

March 3, 2014 - 12:05am

Hundreds of residents came together more than 20 years ago to conceive, fund and build Waimea’s Anuenue Playground. Since then, wooden fixtures have provided fond memories of ships, castles and a volcano for many children and their families.

However, the popular playground at Waimea Park is also showing its age, and many features are no longer considered safe.

A volunteer group is rekindling the spirit that created Anuenue Playground to give it a much-needed renovation.

Twenty-five volunteers braved the rain Sunday morning to help spruce up a play structure popular with younger children. Rotted out posts and decking were replaced, dangerous features removed, benches repaired, weeds pulled and litter discarded. Unfortunately, the poor weather delayed painting plans.

These volunteers were part of a two-day effort led by the Friends of Anuenue Playground. The goal is to make the playground safe and bring it back up to par while keeping its charm and character, said assistant coordinator Katherine D’Assis.

D’Assis enjoys how the effort is bringing people together in the community to work side by side, forging new friendships. She said many are touched by this playground and are passionate about making it the town’s grand centerpiece again. She was thrilled by the dedication, kindness and volunteerism of residents.

On the first weekend of every month, the group plans to tackle different areas of the playground until the whole thing has been upgraded. Last fall, the group completed its first project: repairing and painting the volcano structure and nearby benches, D’Assis said.

Anyone interested in getting involved with the restoration should email Construction experience is not required, but always appreciated, D’Assis said.

Besides contributing time and skills on work days, contributions of materials and funds for future repairs are also needed. Friends of Anuenue Playground is part of Friends of the Future and donations for this project may be made to that 501(c)(3) nonprofit, D’Assis said. Key partners for this weekend’s project included HPM Building Supply, Kai Pono Builders and cabinet maker Hans Torweihe, she added.

The original building of Anuenue Playground, piloted by Kathy Long, John Ray and the Waimea Outdoor Circle, was an exercise in community teamwork. For the design, the team collaborated with New York-based Leathers &Associates, a leader in playground planning that has worked on almost 2,000 projects throughout all 50 states and seven other countries. Leathers &Associates also provided invaluable guidance and coordination in completing the community-built playground, which involved hundreds of helping hands and donations. Volunteers, including roughly 750 children, put in more than 9,000 hours to construct the playground in three days. Anuenue Playground was built with the agreement the community would maintain it, according to West Hawaii Today archives.

Waimea Middle School Principal Matt Horne and his family volunteered Sunday because they use the playground at least twice a week. He said such volunteer experiences teach civic responsibility and what it means to be a contributing member of the community. He also likes how it shows how much the community cares about and believes in keiki. He mentioned how our future belongs to keiki, and for those leaders of tomorrow, there’s no better training than volunteerism today.

His 7-year-old son, Noah, said it was important to take care of the playground so kids have something to play on. Among his duties were helping measure angles and boards with his dad and removing weeds and scrap wood with his 4-year-old brother, Jonah.

Waimea resident Jim Sabatini helped build the original playground and got involved with its betterment because he put a lot of blood, sweat and tears into the place. He also wants children to be able to enjoy it for the next 20 years.

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